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Jane Fonda's new play, new movie and what she learned from Katharine Hepburn: 'Stay hungry!'

February 1, 2011 |  2:08 pm

Fonda 2 Jane Fonda is more than a little excited about her upcoming film, "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding," directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Catherine Keener and Sundance "It" girl Elizabeth Olsen. 

Keener “plays my daughter and that excites and pleases me more than you can know because I think she is both truly talented and original but also fascinating,” Fonda wrote on her blog  (janefonda.com) during filming in July. She also uploaded photos, such as her dog Tulea wandering the set and shots of Olsen with her onscreen love interest, "Gossip Girl’s" Chace Crawford. Hey, it's her first Hollywood movie since 2007's "Georgia Rule," so we forgive her enthusiasm.

Actually, Fonda seems to approach all her projects -- movies, a new play, a fresh batch of fitness videos, the blog -- with that same characteristic gusto. At 73, the actress/activist/fitness guru is clearly still hungry -- a critical trait that she learned from Katharine Hepburn, she told 24 Frames.

“On the set of 'Golden Pond' … Hepburn told us a story about seeing Laurette Taylor play the first 'Glass Menagerie.'  And she said it was beyond imagination how transcendent it was. When [Taylor] did it 15 years later, Katharine said the magic was gone. She’d lost her hunger. It sunk into me, I never forgot that. So I say to myself ‘stay hungry, man.’”

Hepburn  Her most imminent project, the play “33 Variations,” opens Feb. 9 at the Ahmanson Theatre; Fonda stars as an aging Beethoven scholar struggling with the disease ALS. The role earned her a Tony nomination when she performed it on Broadway in 2009. In reprising her role for the L.A. stage, Fonda could easily have dialed in her critically acclaimed performance. But she heeded Hepburn's advice and dug deeper into the material. 

“You blow [the old interpretation of the role] away -- gone,” she says. “You’re asking for trouble if you think about awards, and you’re asking for trouble if you try to repeat what you did. In my character, there’s a lot left to discover. Staying hungry is the key.”

Where does that intrinsic desire to “not be mediocre” come from, exactly? Fonda isn’t sure. But when pressed, she credits her father, Henry Fonda.

“My father was meticulous as an actor and a painter. My mother died too soon, so I don’t know. I think a lot of it came from my father, but … I don’t know.”

The two-time Academy Award winner and feminist icon (she prefers “role model”) says she’s never had an individual role model herself. But she’s been inspired by countless actors. “Right now, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams, Edie Falco. Their talent just blows me over,” she says. “I’m turned on by talent.”

If Fonda had to pick a single mentor, however, it would have to be Hepburn. “The most I’ve ever learned from any single woman was Katharine Hepburn. But I wouldn’t call her a role model because I don’t feel a particular kinship with her in the way she did her life or her philosophy. But I learned a lot from her.”

--Deborah Vankin


Photo, top: Actress Jane Fonda arrives at the 32nd Annual Carousel of Hope Ball in Beverly Hills on Oct. 23, 2010. Credit: Dan Steinberg / Associated Press

Photo, bottom: Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda in the 1981 film "On Golden Pond.” Credit: Reuters